Sunday, April 30, 2006

Beyond Forgetfulness

“Am I ever glad to see you!” Bea says this morning when I enter her room and pad over to her bedside. She is staring up at me with urgency in her eyes. Something must be bothering her a lot. I think of hunger or thirst, or maybe knee pain.

With that wide-eyed, desperate look still in her eyes, she mouths words, as if confiding a horrible secret no one else but me should hear: “I don’t know who I am.”

I stand frozen for an instant, digesting this announcement.

“Beatrice,” I tell her in a soft voice, full of compassion.

“Beatrice," she repeats. "What a pretty name!”

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bea’s Hit Parade of Favorite Foods

For years Bea was very careful with her diet. She never ate certain foods - including ice cream - because the doctor had said she should watch her cholesterol. Now that no one is monitoring her blood or cares about triglycerides, the foods that were supposedly bad for her have become all she wants to eat. I can always get her through dinner with a few allusions to which dessert is on the evening menu.

Really elderly people find it tough to chew, so I try and give Bea dishes that can be easily swallowed. Hamburger was an old favorite, but I have noticed that these days she will only accept a few bites. Fish, however, is ideal. Luckily Bea likes fish, so we have it a lot. Porridge is also good. Sven makes a wicked porridge with raisins. Bea opens her mouth like a little bird when I feed her. It reminds me of the way my children used to open their mouths as babies.

Bananas are easy to hold, so they have become regulars in our shopping cart. I also give her yogurt and, of course, that all-the-nutrition-you-need-in-one-drink potion, Ensure. My mother drinks liquids through a straw, including the occasional glass of wine.

As Bea was having dinner tonight, zipping through the salmon so we could start on a bowl of delicious rice pudding, we reviewed what she likes best. Here are her favorites, in reverse order:

3.) rice pudding
2.) chocolate pudding
1.) ice cream!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Getting "Gussied Up"

For three weeks now, Bea has had hospice. What a wonderful organization! Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod provides the services of a nurse, a chaplain, a social worker, and health aides who come into the house several times a week, an amazing resource and comfort network for both elderly person and caregiver. Bea especially enjoys her health aide, Lisa, who always arrives with an infectious smile that brightens the bedroom. To Sven and I, hospice visits feel like manna from Heaven.

On her way out, Lisa gives me a little report.

One of her jobs is to give Bea a bed bath. Today, she tells Mother that instead of just a bath she intends to get her all “gussied up.”

“Gussied up,” Bea says in a voice that indicates she recognizes the expression but cannot remember from where.

Lisa explains it is an old-fashioned term that goes beyond being cleaned up and means in fact more being made to sparkle.

Bea nods and dozes off. Lisa sits quietly by her bedside for several minutes. When Mother wakes after her power nap, she looks up and says, “I’m ready to get gussied up.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Reversal of Roles

Last night I came back early from town meeting to change Bea. She looked up at me as I turned on the light and mumbled, “Why do you care? Is it because I’m your mother?” She wasn’t quite sure of our relationship that day, exhausted by the weekend, but at least felt sure enough of the answer to formulate the question.

On good days, Bea knows exactly who I am and tells me I’m an angel to care for her.

On bad days, Bea doesn’t recognize me at all. Sometimes she mistakes me for one of her granddaughters or a health aide. It was heartbreaking the first time she asked my identity, but I have grown used to it.

The mother/daughter relationship has become blurry now that her needs require diaper changes and feeding by hand. Once, in a clearer moment, she commented on the reversal of roles and how bizarre it was. When she asks who I am, I just say in a cheerful voice, “It’s Sandy. I know you recognize me.”

Bea will repeat, “Sandy. Yes, you’re my daughter …”

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Visitors ...

One morning last week I heard a chatty voice in Bea’s room, so I opened the door a crack. She was entertaining two elderly gentlemen, at least that's what she claimed. I was curious about their ages.

Me: “Elderly? How old?"

Bea: “Seventy or so.”

As soon as I reach her bedside, she asks me to get the men something to eat, proper behavior with guests, after all. I explain there is no one in the room but us. Of course, she does not want to believe this. The elderly gentlemen are very real in her mind.

The day before Bea had told me there were 40 people in the room and none of them would speak to her. I’m glad she is able to get the elderly gentlemen to have a conversation. Mother has always been very social. Entertaining means a lot to her.

This weekend Sven & I were able to get away for two days of much needed rest. Our neighbor Sally Branch came to sit by Bea's bedside for a couple hours after we left. Sally reported they had a good visit. My brother Nick and his wife Betsy arrived around 4:00. Luckily, Bea was having one of her talkative days. She was wide awake for most of Friday and Saturday. They were treated to tales of her childhood …

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Meaning of "Home"

Thursday, April 20, 2006

November 1999 - February 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A glimpse of Bea at 89